Pathological gambling: Relationship to obesity, self-reported chronic medical conditions, poor lifestyle choices, and impaired quality of life


Background: Pathological gambling (PG) is an important public health problem that is prevalent, costly to society, and associated with substance misuse, depression, domestic violence, crime, and suicide. Despite these challenges, little is known about the physical health and medical correlates of PG. The goal of this project was to assess self-reported chronic medical conditions, medication usage, lifestyle choices, health care utilization, quality of life variables, and body mass index (BMI) in persons with and without PG. Methods: Subjects with PG and community controls were systematically assessed for their medical health, lifestyle choices, medication usage, and health care utilization. We administered the Medical Outcome Study Short-Form 36 Health Survey to assess perceived health and quality of life. BMI was calculated for all subjects. Obesity was defined as having a BMI>30kg/m2. Results: We compared 95 subjects with DSM-IV PG (South Oaks Gambling Screen [SOGS] score>5) and 91 control subjects without PG (SOGS<2) selected through random digit dialing from the general community. PG subjects and controls were similar in age and gender. Persons with PG had more medical and mental health conditions than controls, and were more likely to avoid regular exercise, smoke>1 pack/day, drink>5 servings of caffeine daily, and watch television>20 hours/week. They had more emergency department visits for physical and mental health conditions, were more likely to have been psychiatrically hospitalized in the past year, and were more likely to take psychotropic medication. They were less likely to have had regular dental visits and were more likely to put off medical care due to financial problems. Severity of gambling was positively correlated with number of medical conditions. Persons with PG had poorer self-reported health perceptions on all but one SF-36 subscale. Importantly, persons with PG had a higher BMI than controls and were more likely to be obese. Conclusions: PG is associated with obesity, chronic medical conditions, poor lifestyle choices, worse quality of life, and the use of costly forms of medical care. Pathological gamblers are less likely to receive regular dental care and are more likely to be unable to pay for medical care. The implications of the findings are discussed.

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